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Ten Dharma Realms and Ten Practices to Rise From Each

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This blog will summarize the content of, leaving out details found at the site. There are only ten dharma realms according to the Mahayana (thirty one in the Theravada). Here goes:

1. Our ignorant, self-generated thoughts that lead to sadness and despair send us to the hell realm, the bottom of the ten; no one, no god, takes us there but ourselves. Antidote: Present Moment Awareness practiced by counting exhalations as taught by Master Hakuin in the 18th Century. This generates happiness and we can’t enter the bottom realm when we are happy. As a side benefit, this practice loosens the first hindrance of sense desire.

2. Anger, hatred, and ill will send us to the weird realm of hungry ghosts, the ninth dharma realm. Antidote: Loving kindness, metta meditation. This is very obviously the practice for overcoming the second hindrance of ill will and it is just as obvious that we need to practice it every day.

3. Greed takes us into the eighth, the animal dharma realm. Non-meditation antidote: Practicing generosity. Meditation antidote: Silent Present Moment Awareness, also known as shikantaza.

We practice these three steps one after the other, i.e., Present Moment Awareness, metta, and Silent Moment Awareness. Metta is practiced with Present Moment Awareness and then we just go silent. These are the three steps of Beginning Zen and they have to become second nature before we move onto Intermediate Zen.

4. Aggression and the desire for domination results in conflict and takes us to the seventh dharma realm of the fighting titans/gods, known as the asura dharma realm. Antidote: The four-step Mindfulness of the Body meditation taught by the Buddha in the Anapanasati Sutta.


5. Lack of morality leads us to the sixth dharma realm, that of humans. Non-meditation Antidote: Following the Ten Cardinal Precepts. Meditation antidote: The four-step Mindfulness of Feelings meditation taught by the Buddha in the Anapanasati Sutta.

6. The desire to remain in the world of sense desire (the bottom six dharma realms) leads us to the gods of the desire realm which is the fifth dharma realm. Antidote: The four-step Mindfulness of the Mind meditation taught by the Buddha in the Anapanasati Sutta. This is where we enter the four jhanas which takes us out of the world of sense desire.

7. The desire to remain in the world of form, the sixth fetter, leads us to the fourth dharma realm of the Arhats. Having transcended the desire realm, the Arhat requires no antidote. The practice for transcending the world of form is the four-step Mindfulness of Mind Objects meditation taught by the Buddha in the Anapanasati Sutta. This takes us out of the world of form (the second of the three worlds of sense desire, form and formlessness).

Steps four through seven make up the practices of Intermediate Zen. They are the sixteen steps of the Tranquil Wisdom meditation taught by the Buddha in the Anapanasati Sutta.

The Buddha said: “Put mindfulness in front of you” before beginning these sixteen steps. That’s why we practice Beginning Zen first.

8. The desire to remain in the realm of formlesness, also known as the fine immaterial realm, is the seventh fetter and leads us to the third dharma realm of the Pratyeka Buddhas. The practice that transcends that realm is seeing the twelve steps of dependent origination “forward and backward.” The Buddha said enlightenment requires seeing the twelve steps of dependent origination “forward and backward.” Having developed a very high degree of mindfulness by ”putting mindfulness in front” and having practiced Tranquil Wisdom meditation, the twelve steps are seen ”forward and backward” and the second dharma realm is entered.


9. The second dharma realm is that of the Bodhisattva and the traditional practice of the Bodhisattva is teaching, intentionally declining to enter into nirvana.

But for Rinzai Zen practitioners, teaching is delayed until after all assigned koans are resolved to the satisfaction of a sanctioned Rinzai Zen teacher.

10. The successful passing of all assigned koans leads to the first dharma realm of the Buddhas. The practice is teaching.

In the How To Practice Zen course, recognizing that only a very small number of people will pass all assigned koans (there are less than 100 certified Rinzai Zen teachers in the U.S.), we add a number of non-meditation practices for everybody such as chanting, prostrations, sutra study, attending sesshins, and the like in order to provide a well-rounded practice. We do these practices to support our koan study. These auxiliary practices help us loosen the hindrances of bodily sloth and mental torpor, restlessness and doubt.

By daily following a series of practices that can be related to the ten dharma realms, we begin to see how happiness lifts us from the tenth dharma realm, how metta insures us against entry into the ninth dharma realm of ill will, and how shikantaza lifts us from the greed of the animal world. Then as our practice matures we see how each practice raises us to the next dharma realm, at least in theory, until the practice is perfected and the higher dharma realms are in fact entered.

Then, as a teaching/learning tool, we correlate each of the ten steps of the course to the ten ox-herding pictures and we see how perfectly the pictures match the ten dharma realms.

The Zen Practice Foundation promotes these ten practices in its website and its blog and of course tweets about each blog entry. Many other organizations are doing the same, promoting the forms of Buddhist practice that they think best. We can only hope that all of these organizations and their collective efforts will form a critical mass someday soon so that the practices of Buddhism will be known to all, and practiced by many.

Until then, darkness rules. Corporations are people but can hide their profits overseas to avoid taxation, global warming is a myth, war is honorable and we should support our troops, whistle-blowers are prosecuted while the perpetrators are not, gun ownership and animal slaughter are promoted, and libraries are built for mass murderers who lie to start wars to enrich the “defense” industry. And the corporations who reduce their taxes to the lowest possible level are the loudest cheerleaders for more military spending, spending which they refuse to fund. So services to the poor are reduced so that more money can go the military.

In this sick world where the asuras among us are in positions of dominance, Buddhism is growing. May we all support our local Buddhist centers and start Meetup groups if there is no Buddhist center in our area. When we reach the critical mass, wisdom will overcome madness.